Bringing to life some of Eugène Ionesco’s characters, and even himself, Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is a French and English celebration of the absurdist playwright and his work, directed by Marianne Badrichani. The show has some great portrayals, and although it could have included more ‘immersive’ elements, its inviting atmosphere elevates the whole experience.
Before you are guided through to the dinner party, the butler (Jorge Laguardia) hands over the evening’s menu to examine – which gives an idea of which Ionesco works to expect. Once seated at the long table in the centre of the dining room, Mr and Mrs Smith (Sean Rees and Lucy Russell) join the party. Their guests Mr and Mrs Martin (David Mildon and Edith Vernes) arrive, although late and apparently convinced they are complete strangers, and the full hilarity of the absurdist characters ensues.
The whole event is quite pleasant. The ensembles give admirable performances of classic Ionesco, with snippets from The Bald Soprano and The Lesson. Russell is hilariously British as Mrs Smith, deliver the intricate dialogue delightfully. Laguardia has an immense likability that leaves a lasting impression, even though he is not as strong as the other performers. His charm is present from the start as he ushers guests in, through to his brilliantly boring anecdote as the Captain of the Fire Brigade later on in the performance.
The most enjoyable scenes are those where Rees, playing Ionesco, is interviewed. Though the actors stand around the table firing questions in French (and English) as though in a press conference, these scenes feel quite intimate, giving insight into the playwright’s life – his thought-process, his fears, his influences.
The set and site-specific aspect of the piece is very enjoyable, the interior of the venue befitting the dinner scene. But with such a great space and set, if feels as though there should be more immersive parts to the play, and it’s disappointing to find out there isn’t. That’s not to say this isn’t an enjoyable experience. As a piece of absurdist theatre, Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is a brilliantly performed and directed combination of all the best bits of Ionesco you can fit into just over an hour, with a set-up that activates the senses.
Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ is at Latvian House until 1st April.